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  • Louise Roke

The Steering Wheel of Life

They say in life that it is a cycle or circle...everything goes around. We are born and we live and we die. That's pretty much it. How we live is what defines us. We search constantly for meaning; the meaning, our meaning and it is important to have one or two.

I have an interesting perspective I remember when I was about 11 years old my parents decided to buy and run a small intimate family type rest home (retirement home). Back then all those years ago they were certainly completely different than they were today.

We had some interesting characters. There were 16 residents in total and dad built on the huge house in Epsom on the corner block adding onto the large weatherboard another wing and modernising the place somewhat.

The lounge was massive; big enough for all residents to sit around and chew the fat. On Saturday mornings myself and my best friend Tania; who I had known since forever used to give a hour show. It was a weekly ritual. It usually consisted of some gymnastics and lots of singing. All the oldies that they knew eg "I'm getting married in the morning," "You are my sunshine" etc etc. The ladies and gents all loved it and many sang along. It was a pretty special place; mum was matron, dad was head chef and dishwasher and we really treated them as family.

Every now and again death was in the air; and every now and again we would realise that some people got visitors and some got none at all.

There were characters such as Rosalia who wanted to spend all her time washing; thus she ran the laundry. She was Polish originally but had spent several years in a concentration camp they had done all sorts of things to her. She loved my mother and our family. There was Rose who had been institutionalised since she was about 16 and she was still reasonably young when we had her; only 60 something years old.

She had been put in an institution by her brother; who decided she was far too mad; chasing boys around the neighbourhood. She was too promiscuous and as such would have to be locked away. My god hard to believe but that is what the fate of some of these women were. In fact I watched an amazing movie about a beautiful girl who fell in love with someone but a priest wanted her and when she rejected the priest over and over he put her away (so sorry I can't remember the name of it). Yes this happened to women and no doubt in some places it still does.

When the institutions were shut down in NZ mostly in the late 80s; it meant that many patients had to now go to rest homes; there was nowhere else for them. We were asked if we would take a couple. One of them we took was a very large woman, with a deathly look; she looked like she could chop me in two if I gave her half the chance. You know those horror movies where the estranged zombie has this incredible stare and black eyes seeing right through you; that was Kath. In the end we had to say we couldn't handle her she was just too far gone. Tried to attack mum one time and I remember I was so scared.

Mr T was completely blind and one of the ladies had bad dementia (of course as a kid I didn't know what that was) all I knew is that she had a train to catch and was worried about missing it; every hour of every day.

Now I have watched a year of my grandson go from being born to learning each and every new thing. It has been amazing to see a human grow in front of your eyes. I treasure each and every moment. On the other hand I have a 96 year old father and to assist him to live life to the fullest is also so rewarding. Both are my treasures; both remind you that life is so precious and to live life well; to be true to yourself and others, to be kind, to be your best. You can only steer your life in the direction that you want to go and sometimes you will come to stop signs, or give way signs or run off the road but each of us should get out of life what we give and feel like when we leave we do so knowing we had a few bumps in the road, many adventures and passengers along the way; life can be a great journey.

Dad and my baby grandson Beau





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